Abolishing The Death Penalty

Abolishing The Death Penalty

It is not possible, even with our judicial system of checks and balances, to justly carry out capital punishment. Humans have been known to err in the administration of criminal justice. Innocent people are condemned and put to death. There is no way to reverse an execution that has been carried out in error.

Numerous studies have shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent. It doesn’t save tax payers money. Legal costs associated with the appeals process, which must necessarily be allowed in order to try to prevent an innocent person from being put to death, are far greater than the costs of housing a prisoner for the rest of his or her life.

Virginia appears ready to abolish the death penalty. Two bills that would accomplish this won final approval Monday in the General Assembly. The state Senate approved this legislation 22-16 and the House of Delegates passed it by a vote of 57 to 43. In his state of the commonwealth speech on the first day of this legislative session, Gov. Ralph Northam called on legislators to take this action.

Public support for the death penalty has waned in recent years, and Virginia is only the latest state that is taking steps to abolish it. The significance of this cannot be overstated, as Virginia has executed more people than any other state in the history of our country. In the 400-plus years of its history, dating to colonial times, Virginia has executed 1,390 people. Since 1976, when a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, only Texas has executed more people than Virginia.

One of the reasons support for the death penalty is declining is recognition that it has been disproportionately used against Black people. Society’s ultimate punishment has been meted out against African Americans at a far greater rate in Virginia and across the country.

There is no doubt that the death penalty is carried out in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Until last summer, the federal government had not put anyone to death since 2003. Then, over a span of little more than six months, 13 federal death row inmates were executed. The reason for the resumption in federal executions was a deliberate presidential effort to end the hiatus. It is our hope that, with the change in administrations, measures will be undertaken to end the death penalty at the federal level.

Death sentences have become increasingly rare in Virginia over the past couple of decades. A death sentence has not been imposed in the state since 2011. The last execution to be carried out in the state occurred in 2017. There are only two people remaining on Virginia’s death row – both are Black men.

Most western democracies have done away with the death penalty. Countries that continue with the practice include China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Do we want to be in the company of these authoritarian states?

We acknowledge that there may be some crimes sufficiently heinous to warrant society’s ultimate punishment. However, it is simply impossible to ensure that the humans who operate our criminal justice system can always carry out capital punishment in a just, fair and error-free manner. Life sentences can be reversed. Executions cannot.

We look forward to seeing Gov. Northam sign the legislation that will end the death penalty in Virginia. May other states follow suit. We encourage Congress to enact similar legislation at the federal level, and President Joe Biden to do what he can to halt federal executions.

The News-Gazette

The News-Gazette Corp.
P.O. Box 1153
Lexington, VA 24450
(540) 463-3113

Email Us

Facebook Twitter